The other day Jack and I were doing laundry together. I was trying to teach him to fold his underwear, and he was enlightening me with his vast knowledge of Lightning McQueen and car racing. I decided it was a good time to ask him a few simple but important questions. Asking Jack anything is usually opening yourself up to being completely confused and eventually becoming very irritated. He jumps from one topic to the next, dances, sings and is even known to throw in some ninja-kicks when you give him the chance to talk. He cracks me up, but sometimes he says really profound things without even trying. We started a discussion on feelings. We listed different feelings and he acted them all out for me. When he was done playing charades I said “OK, now what makes you happy Jack?” Jack listed a ton of things. He named his friends, going to their houses, them visiting our house, going to daycare, his daycare lady, the boat, the beach, ice cream, candy, Batman. I actually had to stop him. He was filled with excitement, talking about all the things he loves. Then I asked him “Ok, now what makes you sad?” He looked at me and had no clue what I was asking. I didn’t want to put words in his mouth, so we went through what sad meant again. Still, he struggled. Then he listed three things. 1. When it rains, because he doesn’t like thunder. 2. When slides at the park are too big for him to go down. 3. Going to the beach and thinking a shark will bite his leg off. I didn’t know what to say to this kid. As I was thinking of the perfect thing, he quickly jumped up and down a few times and said “Can we get a piggy Mom? Pleeeease??” Obviously Jack had moved on from our conversation. He ran out of the room. Our time was up. Jack is a busy kid. He doesn’t have time to waste on sadness.
I didn’t really put much thought into the conversation for a few days. I laughed, because who lists a possible shark attack as one of the things that make them sad? Just this morning I was replying to an email from one of the people who contacted me after my PPD post, and I was thinking about depression, and sadness in general. I thought back to my conversation with Jack. The things that make my 3 year old sad, are things that he is afraid of. He’s afraid of thunderstorms, getting hurt on a slide, and possibly having his leg eaten by a shark. His fears are of things he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t understand that thunder isn’t meant to be scary, that he probably won’t get hurt on the slide, and that in fact, there aren’t any leg-eating sharks in Weller’s Bay.
I started to think about my own happy vs. sad list. I can list many things that make me happy. I can also list just as many (and maybe even more) things that make me sad. When I started to think about specific things, I realized that my own sad list was filled with things I fear. I am sad (or mad, which I’ve learned is pretty much the same thing for me) when people treat me badly, because I am afraid that these people do not like me, don’t accept me, and so on. I am sad when innocent children get sick or die, because I do not understand why it happens. There is no way to justify children dying. Now all of this isn’t that profound, I’m aware of that, but I started to think that if I could just understand or accept a few of my fears, maybe my sad list could shrink to be as small as Jack’s. Totally unrealistic, I know. He’s 3. He doesn’t have anything to worry about. He doesn’t deal with any of the adult stresses in life. If he’s at the playground and someone pushes him down, he lets out a scream and then gets on with it. He starts climbing another ladder, and I don’t think he ever thinks about it again. He’s forgotten within minutes, even seconds. That’s why his sad list is so short. He doesn’t ever focus on anything that makes him sad. He believes that he is great. We tell him everyday. He knows that we love him and that he is special. He never questions that. He accepts that what we tell him is fact and it is. I worry about the day when he starts to question those things. When people hurt him and tell him the opposite of what he hears now. I wonder if we will have filled him up with enough confidence to know that he IS all those good things we told him. I worry a lot about my kids and their confidence. I think of how they will deal with bullying and hurtful things that people say and do to them. Sometimes people are real assholes, and although I hate the idea of my kids knowing that, it’s a lesson they’ll have to learn and accept. I’m not going to worry about it now though, because so far my kids all have long happy lists, and short sad ones.
It’s crazy what you can learn in a 10 minute conversation with a 3 year old. Jack reminded me to keep it simple. To stop focusing on the sad, and get excited over my happy list. Maybe I’ll bust out a few ninja-kicks now, Jack-style.
Picture time… Happy Jack and his big sister Natalie (she made his happy list).